Sunday, 27 July 2014

Dartford parkrun inaugural event

For me, the inaugural Dartford parkrun event meant a 7am rendezvous with the event director, Richey, at the library entrance of the park to start marking out the course. I had been awake since 3am with pre-inaugural butterflies, so it was no surprise that I arrived early. Upon arrival I spotted a chap asleep on a park bench wearing a hi-vis jacket. My first thought was that Richey may have had a late night out on the town and decided that to sleep in the park would be the safest option. However it wasn't him and I ran laps of the library while I waited for him.

central park [photo: 7t]

It wasn't long before Richey appeared and we got to work laying the course out. First we looked at the formal garden area - the feedback from the trial run in this section had been good so we stuck with the signage positioning that we had used previously. We then headed round the park and placed the rest of the signage, including working out a new signage set up at the end of 'Mick Jagger's leg'. before heading towards the Dartford Harriers clubhouse to await our volunteers and runners.

By the time we got there, there were a few people waiting. Volunteers arrived and Richey and Tessa briefed and dispatched them to their various marshaling points around the course. Still more people continued to arrive and before we knew it, it was 8.50 and almost time to start the pre-run briefing.  Richey briefed the runners in the usual parkrun manner, he then handed over to the leader of Dartford council, Jeremy Kite. He gave an amusing speech and then we lined up between the two trees for the start of the run. At 9am sharp the run was started.

stones corner (at the end of jagger's leg) [photo: dani]

It was a glorious morning and the park looked stunning. If anything it was probably a little too hot for running, but off we all went around the 5km course. The marshals and course signage combined resulted in all runners successfully negotiating the course (at least, I didn't hear of anyone taking a wrong turn). The problem we had at the trial run where two runners missed the turn around point at the end of 'Mick Jagger's Leg' did not resurface thanks to the addition of a couple of signs, which allowed the marshals (my wife and daughter) to position themselves in the perfect place.

For the full course description. please read the official course page, or if you want more detail and photos, read my Dartford parkrun course description blog. Due to the fact that I can make it around the course reasonably near the front of the pack, I can combine running and barcode scanning at the same event. I made it around in 19.08, slipped on my volunteering vest and donned the barcode scanning device.

looping around sir mick [photo: dani]

Slowly the runners came through the finish funnel and a queue formed for the two barcode scanners on duty (me and Tessa). At first, I found the scanner did not want to easily scan the barcodes. Maybe it was the bright sunlight or maybe it just needed to warm up. Anyway, after about 10 minutes it really seemed to get going. The runners kept coming and we kept scanning.

Eventually, the queue tailed off and the scanning was complete. Afterwards there were photographs and lots of great feedback. The parkrun tourists that had come along for event 1 have lots of experience of inaugural events and have visited hundreds of different venues between them, so to hear that many of them had good feedback for us was good news indeed. Comments mostly contained words along the lines of 'beautiful' and 'very well organised'. There were a couple of suggestions for improvement, so they have been taken on board.

time to do some scanning [photo: dani]

As time ticked away and the runners headed into the Dartford Harriers clubhouse, the park cafe, or indeed somewhere else. It was now time for us to head into the clubhouse and get those results processed. Richey and Tessa set to work on the processing, but due to a problem with the laptop, the information from the stopwatches could not be transferred onto the laptop... So they had to enter everybody's times manually. We had a turnout of 231 runners so this was a mammoth task.

Eventually it was complete and the results were sent off the parkrun HQ. It had been an amazing and hectic morning. As I've said so many times before about different events - now that the inaugural is out of the way, it is now time to start building the community. Thankfully the running community in Dartford is already quite well established and hopefully Dartford parkrun will be an integral part of it.

the littlest volunteer [photo: 7t]

There's so much more that happened and so many people I saw and/or chatted to that I haven't even got close to mentioning here. My head is still a blur and to cover everything would mean writing an epic blog, which sadly I do not have enough time to do. To finish up, and I've mentioned it elsewhere, but thank you to everyone who has been involved in getting us to this point.

Dartford parkrun has most definitely landed!

Friday, 25 July 2014

Dartford parkrun training and trial run

Thursday 24 July 2014 - our afternoon of training followed by our test run.

Related: my 'Dartford parkrun course description' blog.

The training took place in the afternoon and was attended by myself, Richey, Tessa, Jonathan (Shorne Woods parkrun), and Jacky (Whitstable parkrun). Jacky lead the training session and really was amazing - everything was explained in detail and we left feeling in much better shape for the test run, which was scheduled for 7pm that evening.

When we arrived in the park to start getting ready, there was already a small gathering of parkrunners waiting at the start area. Good news - we definitely had some runners. And. They had found the start area! I also spotted a really good contingent of runners from our running club, So Let's Go Running. It was great to see them here supporting us.

me and richey pre-run (looking a little stressed?) [photo: brian page]

The President of Dartford Harriers, Tony Durey, had also got a few his runners to run. To complete the Dartford running club set, I also spotted a few Dartford Road Runners out to test the course. There were also some parkrun club shirts on show and a good turnout of Shorne Woods and Bexley parkrun. Thank you to all of you for your support.

At the test run, we were all going to take on the roles that we would at our inaugural event. For me, that involves helping to get the course set up - running the 5k - then quickly slipping into my volunteering vest to scan runners' barcodes after their runs.

So I got to work putting out the course signage. It was the first time doing this so it took longer than it will once we fine tune things. I had to spend a little time making holes in the signs so they could by attached to benches and flag poles, and hung from trees and bushes. I also put out a few cones where they are required. Once I was happy with the positioning of them I headed back to towards the start.

By now we were running late and I could see the runners gathered at the start area. But then the air horn went off and they all started running. It had started without me!! I continued my jog back to the start area, slipped out of my volunteering jacket, searched for some satellites, then got a move on to catch up with the rest of the runners. You see, in order for me to run and barcode scan, I have to finish fairly close to the front of the pack.

during the fast downhill [photo: brian page]

I caught up with the tail runner, Ben, about a minute or so later then proceeded to filter through the rest of the field. Once we had completed the off-road section I had settled into a fairly decent place within the field - there were plenty of runners behind me that I could scan at the end.

I followed the course around - looking out for things that could be improved. I was glad to see the runners ahead of me easily following my signs and not getting lost. At the start of lap two we have an additional section 'Mick Jagger's Leg' which gives us the extra few hundred of metres we need to make up the full 5k. The end of the section involves a loop around the monument of Mick Jagger. However, a couple of runners missed the looping point and I had to chase after them as they disappeared into the tunnel that goes under Princes Road into the Brooklands Lake area.

This was a useful lesson to learn and we were lucky that I had been exactly where I was. I now know that an additional sign plus the marshal is needed here - so that'll be in place for event 1. I continued around the rest of the course - The marshals all seemed to be positioned perfectly and I didn't spot anyone else losing their way.

Once I had finished, I quickly pulled on my volunteering vest and got into position to scan runners. I wasn't the only barcode scanner on duty, so the first few runners had been able to have their barcodes scanned. There were now two of us in position to scan the rest of the field.

The feedback from the test event was very positive. There were a few points about some overgrown parts of the trail section, so we'll have a look into that. No doubt we will learn more over the next few weeks and months, but all the runners made it around and everyone I spoke to said they enjoyed the course.

post-run [photo: jonathan crowle]

Thank you to all of the volunteers and runners that came along to help us practice. We couldn't have done it without you all!

The unofficial results are on the Dartford parkrun news page.

Thursday, 24 July 2014

Dartford parkrun course description

Just a few short months ago, this parkrun venue was just an idea in a tweet, And now after lots of hard work it is finally almost time to launch Dartford parkrun. I have been involved in getting this one up and running, but apart from a lot of running around the park testing out different route ideas, I don't really feel like I've done that much. The main credit has to go to event director Richey and to the parkrun ambassador for Kent, Jacky MacDonald. Dartford council and Dartford Harriers have also been instrumental in making this a reality.

central park

The run takes place in Central Park, Dartford. It is right in the town centre and is easily accessible by train via Dartford train station. If you do travel here by train, you might be interested to know that after losing touch after primary school, platform 2 is the very place that Mick Jagger and Keith Richards met and what followed is rock 'n' roll history. From the station it is about a ten minute walk to the meeting point in the park. One of the main reasons for having the run in this park was the central location, with the hope that the local people that stand to benefit the most can easily reach the venue.

a general view

Dartford is also well served by buses, most of which stop right opposite the main entrance to the park. Anyone who cycles will find some bicycle racks in the centre of the park outside the park's elegant looking cafe building or outside Dartford library at the main entrance. However I expect cyclists will use one of the fences around Dartford Harriers athletics track, which is more convenient than the other options. The athletics club are based at the track in Central Park and thanks to the support from their President, Tony Durey, the clubhouse will become the central point for parkrunners to meet, use the toilets, and enjoy some refreshments afterwards.

central park athletics track

In 1984, the Central Park athletics track was the venue of Zola Budd's first UK appearance. The track was still cinder at this point. The meet drew crowds of 5,000 and ignited the interest of the UK media, with the race broadcast live on BBC's Grandstand. She set the Central Park women's track record over 3,000 metres that day. The time was 9:02.06, a record which still stands to this day. Dartford Harriers are the hosts of the Dartford Half-Marathon, which is the longest, most-continually held road race in Kent.

the view from the start line (athletics track on the right)

The run starts in between the two trees outside the Dartford Harriers clubhouse. The course is a two lapper and takes in all of the park's areas and lets runners see all of the park's features. It is mostly run on tarmac or other similar hard surfaces, but there is a stretch that leaves the tarmac in favour of grass and a dirt trail. It is largely a flat course, but not completely. In dry conditions it will still be a fast course.

darent valley path

The first section sees the runners heading off along the path adjacent to the athletics track. The runners continue onto the gravelly path and then, on lap one, turn left at the corner. The next section forms part of the Darent Valley Path. It meanders nicely through the trees and the vigilant runners might catch a glimpse of the River Darent on their right hand side. There's a small bump and right hand turn to negotiate as the course takes the runners across The EllenorLions bridge (or bridges).

the river darent and the bridge that runners cross as part of the route

Immediately after crossing the bridges, the route swings right and onto a grassy trail path that follows the river again. The tree line to the right hand side is very thick and completely blocks out any view across the river. The embankment to the left grows in size as the runners progress along this section. Once at the far end, the route turns to the left and runners negotiate the uphill trail section. This is only short but is proper single track trail territory with quite a few protruding tree roots and overgrown bushes to the side.

the beginning of the off-road section

At the top the runners follow the only possible route around the the left and run along the outer edge of the football fields, adjacent to the road. At the end of this grass section, there is a lamp post which runners must use as a marker to run around (ie DO NOT cut across the football pitch to the left hand side). They are now back on tarmac and head slightly downhill on the twisty path back towards the double bridge.

runners pass the cafe twice during the run

Once across the bridges they turn right as they return to the main section of the park and run past the skate park. Here the tarmac is a little worn and cracked, but it is a pleasant section in the shade of the trees. This path takes runners past the park cafe and playground, and then swings to the right where the path narrows and the run goes through a heavily shaded path which runs adjacent to the playground. At the end of this path there is an old stone bridge (often referred to as the Troll Bridge) - this is one of the arches of Dartford's medieval bridge. It was rebuilt in 1923 across Dartford's other river, the River Cran, which now flows underground.

the medieval bridge (turn right as you pass it)

Turning right at the medieval bridge, the runners now follow the path around, where runners can admire the stunning flower beds in the formal area of the park. Just outside the park, the runners may notice the red bricked building which is Dartford Library - this was opened to the public on 1 January 1916 and its dome was used as an air raid watch post during the second world war. It has also featured on the TV show - Britain's Most Haunted.

the central path and dartford library (runners run towards the camera)

As they run adjacent to the library the runners might catch a glimpse of the Dartford War Memorial which commemorates over 300 Dartford men who perished in the first and second world wars, and also in the Korean War. It was erected in 1922 and is now a grade 2 listed building. Turning left at the junction, the runners now head along the central path through the formal area. On the right is an area where the gardeners can get creative, which usually features an intricate design made from flowers. At the time of writing, the design is of a poppy. Really impressive work. This then leads past the rose garden and towards the bandstand.

the bandstand

The runners take a right hand turn just before the bandstand and follow the path which forms a loop around the bandstand green. They now take the long sweeping right hander where they will encounter fellow runners on a brief two way stretch. All that is left is a long tarmac straight that heads back towards the athletics track. At the end of the tarmac, the runners are directed onto the grass and through the trees to avoid any conflict with vehicles that could be using the access road. This completes the first lap.

the straight path that heads back to the athletics track

Lap two is almost identical but with the addition of a short out and back. When reaching the first corner on lap two, the runners will be directed to their right to run along 'Mick Jagger's leg'. It is just a short section where runners need to loop around Mick Jagger, the Vox amp, and the Dartford Warbler before heading back and continuing the lap as described above. When reaching the end of lap two, they can simply enter the finish funnel which will be set up on the grass in almost the same place as where the run started.

sir mick

Barcode scanning will take place right next to the finish line and the runners can then head into the Dartford Harriers clubhouse for some refreshments and post run analysis. I have run the course with the running buggy and the only part that would be of any concern is the trail section which is narrow, bumpy and uphill. It's worth having a look at this section to make sure you are comfortable with it before attempting a buggy run, especially if you aren't used to off-road buggy running.

the stunning flower beds

I really like the course, but then I am heavily biased. It's pretty fast and also features lots of different sections to keep things fresh throughout the run. Dartford has a great running community spread across its running clubs and groups, so I think this will be a good thing for the area. Of course, attracting existing runners is the easy part - I really hope we can provide a welcoming, inclusive environment for any locals looking to get out and enjoy their local park and improve their health/fitness at the same time. I'm really looking forward to the Dartford running community becoming even stronger than it is already. All we need are a few volunteers each Saturday morning to make it happen!

Dartford parkrun are on Facebook and Twitter.

Wednesday, 23 July 2014

Rocky Road Trail Race 2014

When I cycled on the mountain bike trails at the cyclopark, I couldn't help but wonder what it might be like to run on these trails. Then, by some strange coincidence, the Rocky Road Trail Series at the cyclopark was announced. It was to be a series of three races with one each in May, June and July. I was out of the country for the May race and the June race was two days after the North Downs Run, and I didn't want to ask any more of my body after running that. Thankfully the July race fell quite nicely and there was nothing to stop me from entering this one.

#teamslgr [photo: dani]

This race took place on a Tuesday evening, which is usually our main club night. But with this event being a one-off, I thought it would make a nice change for any of my team mates that fancied mixing things up a little. So in the weeks leading up to the race, I spread the word on the So Let's Go Running Facebook page with the goal to turn the cyclopark black and orange. In the end, we had a very respectable turnout of 11 of us from our club. I also took the family along and asked the wife if she wouldn't mind taking some photos of us all as we raced. Some members of SLGR registered (£8) in advance, but I waited until the day and signed up upon arrival at the cyclopark.

walking to the start line [photo: dani]

The series was put on by Steve Cable and his wonderful team of volunteers. Steve also organises the free, weekly cyclorun (facebook), which is 5k around the tarmac cycle track every Sunday morning at 8am. Steve was one of the first people that I bumped into and he had just finished marking out the course. I was going to recce it before the race, but time ticked by, people arrived, and in the end it just didn't happen. I did manage to squeeze in a short warmup run on part the trails with a couple of SLGR runners a few minutes before the start of the race.

the start line in the gravel [photo: steve cable]

Race start time was 7.30pm, and a few minutes before that, we were lead from the main reception building to a wider area where Steve marked a line in the gravel - this would act as the start and the finish. The course was a two-lap circuit of the mountain bike trails that run around the outer edge of park - they have different levels of difficulty with the black routes being the hardest. Underfoot the course was a mixture of some gravelly stones, dirt trail, rocky paths, and big rocks (or you could call them boulders). The terrain was mildly undulating and featured some very twisty sections of single track mountain bike trails.

and we're off... [photo: dani]

I lined up at the front, knowing that I would need a good start to avoid being caught up in the crowd once the route reached the single track which would make overtaking very difficult. So I started well, but made the slight error of being too polite as we approached the single track and I ended up out of position with no easy way to move through the field. I stayed patient and held back, then there was an opportunity to overtake on a corner, but again I was too polite and actually lost a place. I was now in 5th place, knowing that I was running at a slower pace than I would have liked and with no easy way overtake. The worst thing was that I could see the leader pulling away from us.

lap one [photo: dani]

I stayed patient as we followed the twisty path through the first kilometre of the course and then I managed to find a couple of points that were wide enough to make some overtaking moves. By the end of the first kilometre, I had made it up into third position, but was again stuck and could only watch as the leader disappeared further into the distance. Then I found an another overtaking point, moved into second place and had the task of trying to claw back some of the lost ground.

at the far end of the course about to enter a black route [photo: steve cable]

I was now 1.5km into the race, and at this stage, the leader must have had a 20-30 second lead, so I just stuck with a good strong pace and slowly I could see that I was gaining on him. As I came back past the main central area (2.8km), I had cut the gap down to about 10-15 seconds. By the 3.3km point, I had caught up with him but the narrow trail paths prevented me from overtaking. So I spent the next 1.5km on his tail waiting for the widest of the overtaking points to appear, and when it did, I took the opportunity to move past.

the final stretch [photo: dani]

I was now in the lead and did not want to lose it. I had a sense that I had opened up a little gap, but I wasn't sure if it would be enough. I was thinking about the team and how great it would be if we could get a win. With that thought in my head, I pushed as hard as I could along the final kilometre. The setting sun was behind me and I could see my shadow stretching out in front of me, I knew that if my competitor was gaining, I would see his shadow before he had an opportunity to pass. However, it never appeared and I crossed the finish line in first position and gave #teamslgr their first proper outright race win! A proud moment.

post-race analysis [photo: dani]

I had finished 22 seconds ahead of the second placed runner. I was really pleased with my efforts to catch him and then to still have enough left in me to pull away through that final kilometre (my gps data). After a few cups of water, I chatted to some other finishers and then got in position to cheer on the rest of the SLGR gang as they approached the finish line. They all looked really strong as they pushed through the last section - hopefully that's a sign that the Tuesday and Thursday sessions paying off!

#teamslgr [photo: dani]

Team SLGR results (overall position / name / time):

1. Steven Stockwell - 23.56
9. John Annett - 29.00
10. Aaron Bardoe - 30.14
16. Gary Clements - 33.02
17. Dave Reid - 33.05
18. Chris Preston - 33.07
19. David Cooper - 33.53
23. Stephanie Ham - 36.29
24. Janice Munday - 36.49
25. Rachael Bignell - 38.01
30. Stephanie Mills - 40.37

my winners' medal [photo: dani]

The prize giving ceremony took place on the patio area outside the cafe. I knew my result, and was very excited to collect my winners' medal from Steve. But there were also team prizes up for grabs. We had taken quite a large group down and I was hoping that we would be in with a good chance of another prize. In the end it turns out that we won the mens and the womens team prizes with our top three finishers of each gender picking up a bottle of wine each. The full results can be found on the cyclorun facebook page.

a perfect end to a brilliant evening [photo: dani]

This was a really good trail race - the terrain was much rockier than what you would usually find on a typical south east England trail race. The rocky nature of the course made this more like a mountain-style trail race but without the huge inclines. I really loved it and I'm already looking forward to next year's series.

To top it all off, the amazing sunset really did turn the cyclopark black and orange... What a great evening for #TeamSLGR!

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